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Over the past few weeks there has been uproar within the classical music world after the National Musicians Church, St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in Holborn, announced it would no longer be taking bookings of a non-religious nature from 2018.

The Church is where Sir Henry Wood, founder of the BBC Proms, is buried. It is also the home to a book of remembrance for musicians and windows commemorating singer Dame Nellie Melba and composer John Ireland. It has been known as the National Musicians Church for more than 70 years and is a prominent concert venue and rehearsal space that has been used by all types of musicians. Assurance had to be provided in 2013, after the appointment of Reverend David Ingall to the church, as many musicians were worried that the new priest would change the ethos of St Sepulchre as it was known. The recent move has therefore proven the need for this worry and has sparked a coming together of influential musicians to try and prevent the ban.

Since the new appointment of Reverend Ingall, the church has become part of the network founded by evangelical church Holy Trinity Brompton. The ‘evangelical group is known for its youth friendly rock-band style of worship’ and hosts the ever popular Alpha courses.  Reverend Ingall has stated in response to the reaction to the new ban; “Our ministry as the National Musicians’ Church continues to be a core part of our church’s identity and vision… While its expression may be changing, that underlying vision remains unchanged.” This, however, hasn’t settled the minds of leading musicians who believe that the “abrupt move was made without consent.”

In response to the ban on secular bookings, Richard Robbins started a petition to try and reverse the decision. He stated that “the church was particularly valued by musicians because of its heritage and for practical reasons.” He is helping to form a committee to “put forward a positive vision of what the Musicians Church actually is and to try and find a way that both music and ministry can co-exist together in a very open way.”

Photo credit: Making Music

This has consequently led to more than 50 musicians, including top composers, performers, and directors of music at cathedrals, to write a letter to The Guardian protesting against St. Sepulchre’s plans to ban non-sacred concerts. In the letter they state; “the unique ‘mission’ for St. Sepulchre’s has been to musicians, providing a welcoming space and encouraging them to be involved in running the parish. That its custodies are now willing to abandon this unique national cultural remit is difficult to understand and harder to accept.” Among those who signed the letter were Sir James MacMillan, John Rutter, Suzi Digby, Julian Lloyd Webber and Judith Weir.

Reverend Ingall has stated that “in the coming weeks we will reflect and pray, and consult with members of the musicians’ community about how best to fulfil that ministry moving forward.” The final outcome has not been announced yet, but we can hope that the hard work of Richard Robbins to start the petition and the influential musicians pays off.

Update: Over 7,000 people have signed the petition. Read all updates here.

(Written on August 29, 2017 )

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